MMA Fighter Mark Munoz has been on countless AFE tours over the years, bringing MMA-style fighting clinics to the troops. In September 2017, Munoz got a unique opportunity to return ‘home’ on one of his AFE tours.

Munoz, along with fellow fighters CB Dolloway, Jorge Rivera and Gray Maynard, traveled to Japan, Okinawa and Guam over Labor Day weekend that year. The crew visited Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Camp Hansen, Kadena Air Base and Naval Base Guam.

The fighters also visited another base on their trip, one very important to Munoz – he was born at Yokosuka Naval Base while his father was stationed there as a petty officer in the Navy.

“I was a Navy Brat. My dad was in the Navy for about 16 years,” Munoz told MWR Yokosuka.

The fighters led interactive clinics on wrestling and grappling fundamentals at the bases, as well as an MMA clinic, which taught moves from a variety of fighting styles, like boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai.

Munoz says the skills involved in the sport of MMA can be useful for servicemembers.

“It can save their life,” Munoz told Tyler Hlavac of Stars and Stripes. “I believe martial arts can help servicemembers with their mindset, with their character, their leadership, and their cardiovascular fitness. What we do is in essence what they do on the battlefield, for guys on the front lines. It’s the same mentality.”

“To be better physically, to be better mentally, and to be better emotionally.Those are three things that a servicemember needs,” Munoz told MWR Yokosuka about the importance of MMA style training.

Comparing MMA to the military experience, Munoz said, “In MMA, you’ve got to give honor, you’ve got to give respect. You got to work hard. You got to have desire, direction, diligence, discipline, and dedication. You got to have commitment, courage, integrity, leadership. And that’s what’s similar.”

Munoz was not the only fighter on the tour with a military connection – Rivera served in the Army and was stationed at Fort Hood.

When asked about applying what he learned in the military to MMA, Rivera told MWR Yokosuka, “It was the discipline. It was understanding that this was what I had to do – what I have to go through – and be accepting of it. There are no shortcuts, it’s a lot of hard work.”

“I’m looking at the guys trying to do this that want your spot. You’re not on your game, that’s it, it’s your loss,” he said.

Seaman Trevor Allison of the USS Ronald Reagan attended the clinic at Yokosuka and told Hlavac he was pleasantly surprised to learn the clinics were hands-on experiences, rather than the demonstrations he expected.

“In the military, this our kind of stuff,” Allison said. “He showed us how to [take down opponents] with a gun at your side. He was trying to teach to a [military audience]. These techniques, you need to have a base before you can do them.”

Steven Marksberry, Martial Arts Instructor and MWR Community Recreation Director at Yokosuka shared his perspective on failure and respect in martial arts.

“You’re not afraid to fail, because you know what’s going to happen. But every time that you fail, you learn something else. And you get better. And then you have respect – that person knows more than me and I respect what they can do,” Marksberry said. “And when you get in the ring with somebody lesser than you in talent or skill, then that’s been shown to you, you need to show it to someone else.”

When asked about his job as a director of MWR, Marksberry said it’s all about creating positive experiences for his servicemembers.

“You guys have the hard job, to have to go out and fight, you have to be on ships for long spans of time. We’ve got Marines that go and they deploy at any moment. And that’s the really tough job,” Marksberry said. “Our job is to get to have some fun and provide some services that you should, hopefully, be able to enjoy. And that’s fun for us. When we come together like this, it’s just another way for people to feel and build that community.”

For Munoz, a shared sense of community is just as important. “You’re only as good as the brother or sister that’s serving next to you. Because as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another,” Munoz told MWR Yokosuka. “If I can make you better by sharpening you, in essence, you’re going to make me better. We can get better together.”

Featured photo by Tyler Hlavac, Stars and Stripes